In the gray Barcelona of the mid-sixties, a writer named Pedro, who did not reach the age of 20, assumed as the main purpose of his poetry a task that, if someone were to pose it today, would sound as laughable as it is quixotic: to rescue Spanish literature from the violent rupture caused by the Civil War and return it to The path of modernity, lost because of death, exile and the repression that so many writers had had to face. At the beginning of the following decade, this same young man – now called Pere and who, although not so young, was still considered something like a child prodigy within Hispanic letters – began to write his literature in Catalan. Thus, he embarked on a new equally ambitious project: to participate in the rehabilitation of Catalan literature, betting on restoring the abandoned avant-garde way, putting it at the service of future generations. For the second time, the young man would achieve part of his purpose using strategies to intervene, combining the maneuvers of writer and cultural agent, in the reconstruction of the battered Catalan cultural field. About all this and many more topics The mortal plot: Pere Gimferrer and the politics of literature (1962-1985), the recently published book by Eloi Grasset, Professor of Iberian Studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara.
“That to this day there is no book dedicated to critically evaluating both Gimferrer’s intellectual trajectory and the political extent of his influence,” Grasset writes in the introduction to his book, “is an anomaly that this book seeks to correct.” An anomaly, yes, and undoubtedly also a unique opportunity for any researcher interested in better understanding how the Spanish and Catalan cultural fields were configured from the sixties. It is hard to believe that Grasset, with his extensive and detailed study, is the first to have traced Gimferrer’s hectic intellectual journey back to the 1980s. From his production as a poet and novelist to his influence as an editor and critic, through his role in shaping the Brand new, Gimferrer is much more than a legend composed of fabulous eccentricities. It is, without a doubt, one of the most relevant figures for understanding the paths that peninsular letters were taking during the second part of the 20th century.
Examining Gimferrer’s itinerary not only manages to uncover the nuances of his profound and highly personal impact on Castilian and Catalan literatures, but also to trace some of the social changes that took place in Spain since the late Franco period. “During the period from the 1960s to the 1980s, Gimferrer was decisive because, beyond his literary work, he was a fundamental mediator for the circulation of certain authors and trends,” explains Grasset, sitting in the sunny patio of a craft brewery in Santa Barbara.
The book starts from the assumption that personal and cultural identities are self-serving constructions. That idea helped him understand Gimferrer better: “There is a connection between his literary evolution and his political position. I think the language change is a good example of the link between the two issues. The curious thing about that time, at the beginning of the seventies, is that young writers who began to write in Catalan were forced to consider the position of their literature with respect to modernity, without losing sight of the fact that they should help to consolidate a literary tradition that has been interrupted, and strengthen a political identity ”.
The peculiar style of Grasset’s prose matches the atypical nature of his proposal. His book is not a biography, even if it contains biographical elements, and, however erudite it may seem at times, it does not aspire to be an academic monograph either. Reading it, it gives the impression that, taking elements from Gimferrer’s intellectual itinerary, Grasset has wanted to describe 20 years of Spanish cultural life – hence names such as Castellet, Gil de Biedma or Vázquez Montalbán. Says Grasset: “I have deliberately sought an intermediate space that could be assimilated by anyone who is interested in the Spanish cultural history of those years.” Definitely, the result is a book that, without losing academic rigor, manages to maintain the interest of the reader. “What has been more complex for me has been to be able to combine my voice and my interpretation of the facts with the quotes from Gimferrer that appear in the text, without this implying an added effort for the reader”.
In these times when political polarization divides the world, Grasset insists on The deadly plot to avoid the biased and self-interested simplification of everything that requires a rigorous and attentive look. On the one hand, the book does not hesitate to praise Gimferrer’s efforts and his immense contribution to peninsular letters. On the other hand, it adopts a critical stance towards the political instrumentalization of literature that the pujolism in Catalonia, and in which Gimferrer in a certain way participated. “Since coming to power, Jordi Pujol has given culture a central role in strengthening the Catalan political identity. This commitment was associated with the creation of a new cultural narrative based on historical continuity, without complexes subordinating historiographic rigor to political profitability ”, says Grasset. “Gimferrer collaborated in the consolidation of that idea as early as the seventies. Your essay Tàpies i l’esperit català 1974 is a good example of that ”. Grasset dedicates the second part of the book to exploring the link between culture and politics that occurred in Catalonia from the end of the dictatorship. “One of the aspects that I was interested in covering is the dispute between creative freedom and political subordination that began in Catalonia during the sixties. This dispute was then unresolved and is still valid in a good part of the current discussions within the Catalan cultural field ”, the author points out. “I think that in order to fully understand the role that culture is given in Catalonia, we must pay attention to the self-interested politicization of the creative act that took place in the first Pujolista governments. The case of Tàpies is very evident. “
The last and inevitable question has to do with what Gimferrer will think of this book. “I do not know, that’s the truth. I don’t think it’s too important. After all, it is always difficult to recognize yourself in what a stranger may have written about you, ”Grasset replies. “Beyond opinions, what really counts is that the book serves to record the role of agent provocateur that Gimferrer had in the corrections that peninsular literatures suffered during those two decades. That’s the only thing I set out to do when starting this project ”.
Aaron Shulman is an American journalist and writer, author of The Age of Disenchantments: The Epic Story of Spain’s Most Notorious Literary Family and the Long Shadow of the Spanish Civil War (Ecco / HarperCollins).